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NC Courage Fire Coach Paul Riley After Report Alleging Sexual Coercion With Former Players

The North Carolina Courage have fired coach Paul Riley in the wake of a report from The Athletic detailing former players' accusations of sexual coercion spanning multiple teams and leagues and lasting more than a decade.

The Courage said in a statement that following the "very serious allegations of misconduct" leveled against Riley, the club terminated his contract. The team said it "support[s] the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories." 

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that she was "shocked and disgusted" to read the new allegations reported by The Athletic on Thursday, and that in addition to the team firing Riley, the league is reporting the allegations to the United States Center for SafeSport for investigation. 

One of the former players, Sinead Farrelly, detailed to The Athletic a 2011 incident in which she alleges Riley coerced her into having sex with him and spending the night in his room. The sexual coercion toward Farrelly, who is now retired, continued during the offseason as well while she played for a semi-pro team Riley coached on Long Island in ’12, she said.

Both Farrelly and another player, Mana Shim, detailed another incident in 2015 when Riley led both of the Portland Thorns teammates to his hotel room after a night of drinking and pressured them to kiss each other as he watched. He also sent an unsolicited lurid picture of himself to both, they players said. Other unnamed Thorns players from the 2014–15 season said Riley also made inappropriate remarks about their weight and sexual orientation.

Following The Athletic's publication of the story, the National Women's Soccer League Players Association called for an investigation into the allegations against Riley, and an investigation as to how Riley was rehired in the NWSL by the Western New York Flash in 2016, just months after allegations of misconduct were first brought against him in ’15.

The U.S. Soccer Federation released a statement Thursday saying it was deeply disturbed by the recent reports of misconduct in the NWSL. The federation also suspended Riley's coaching license effective immediately.

"The abusive behavior described by the courageous athletes who have come forward is repulsive, unacceptable and has zero place in soccer or society," the statement read. 

"These are serious allegations and these athletes have our unequivocal support."

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Riley was head coach of the Portland Thorns between 2014 and '15. The team said in a statement Thursday that there was "much in the article that we are first hearing about now."

Players from around the soccer world have voiced their support for Farrelly, Shim, Kaiya McCullough (who was part of a Washington Post investigation into former Spirit coach Richie Burke) and others who spoke on the record or otherwise to detail issues of harassment within the sport.

The players’ union additionally called for the suspension of anyone working within the league who violated its anti-harassment policy for a safe work environment—whether the conduct occurred before or after the policy's implementation in 2021—and said it was creating an anonymous hotline for players to report abuse.

The league said in its statement that it was also "implementing a new anonymous reporting process" as a means to try to make the league a "safe, positive and respectful environment for our players, clubs, staff and fans."

Riley, 58, had been with North Carolina's organization since 2016 (the club, previously known as the Western New York Flash, relocated in ’17) and has been a soccer coach at various levels for more than two decades. 

He responded to a list of nearly two-dozen questions from The Athletic by saying that the majority of the allegations are “completely untrue.”

The Courage are next set to play on Friday against the Spirit. Assistant Sean Nahas has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the season, the club said.

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